Ukraine: A Big Stick is Not a Threat If No One Believes You’ll Use It

The Atlantic’s Peter Beinart asserted in a piece this week that, contrary to conservative opinions, Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine has nothing to do with his perspective on American influence. As Beinart writes:

“[F]rom where Putin sits, American power hardly seems in retreat. From his perspective, in fact, the reverse is likely much closer to the truth.”

His argument boils down to showing that American influence is currently greater than it was at the end of the Cold War and it has not yet begun to physically shrink. Beinart makes a crafty equivocation, equating American strength with President Obama’s fortitude. Granted, American hard and soft power is a big stick, perhaps as big as ever.

The problem with this argument is that you can have as big a stick as Theodore Roosevelt. But if no one believes you’ll use it, it’s worthless.

No one believes in an Obama red line after Syria. No one in their right mind thinks that he takes great interest in what happens overseas after Benghazi. How exactly was Putin supposed to interpret the Obama administration’s decision to withdraw from the missile defense shield plan for Czechoslovakia? Czech leaders knew that this was an acquiescence based on an absurd “reset” strategy with Russia. How could Putin not know as well?

If the United States is not willing to defend the geographic location over which it supposedly has influence, using the tools the situation calls for, that influence for all useful purposes does not exist. Putin is betting that Obama will not use America’s strength to stop him, thus resulting in a shrinking sphere of influence for us and a growing one for Russia.

That is was conservatives are warning about.